El.pub Analytic Issue Number 15

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Analytic 15 - Looking back - seven years of El.pub (Part 2)

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Authoring and the digital revolution
IPR and content management
User centred design, personalisation and VR
Accessing knowledge and the arrival of digital libraries
Interoperability and standards

IPR and content management

The digital revolution has opened a Pandora's box of issues about intellectual property rights that have long lain dormant. Machines like the photocopier, tape / cassette recorder, fax and video recorder have been a bone of contention between copyright owners and the public since at least the 1950s. The balance has usually gone in favour of the public for a variety of reasons including relatively poor quality of the reproduction, new compensating revenue streams and the overall value to the business community that might be lost (at least in cost terms) if the devices were not generally available.

The copyright industry (that is companies whose principle revenue stream is from the exploitation of copyright that they own) is now refusing to allow this laissez faire attitude to continue into the era of digital content. Reproduction quality is nearly perfect, the spread of the Internet and home computers makes transmission cheap and easy and direct copying to compatible media (CD-R and DVD-R) is also cheap and easy. There have always been professional forgers of everything from CDs to motor tyres who run production lines as expensive and large scale as the original industry. These mass forgers are tracked and prosecuted through the normal police procedures.

The response of the copyright industry to the digital revolution has been to propose, and in some cases apply, technical measures to discourage or prevent the possibility of copying and to prosecute some individuals involved in small scale copying as a deterrent. One of the problems with this procedure is that individuals believe that they have a right to carry out limited copying for their own use or for some professional purposes. This belief is due partly to the fact that some countries have 'fair use' provisions in their IPR legislation, partly because the copyright industry has agreed to allow limited copying in specific circumstances in many countries but principally because of the past practice of not enforcing copyright regulations on individuals for videotape and photocopying. At least in the case of videotape this was because the industry was making rather losing money. The special agreements on limited copying include such allowances as: small parts of books and journals in libraries, collecting money from providers of some copy media, time shifting TV programmes and copying for research and educational use. Some of these exceptions have been forced through legal actions and the interpretation of the law by the judiciary. The business community also use copying on a large scale for ephemeral uses such as copying magazine articles for use in meetings, the use of news clippings either as an internal service or via agencies, and copying copyright forms. Probably the only copyright that is enforced strictly is that on banknotes.

A considerable amount of RTD has been generated from the search for effective technical measures to enforce IPR, partly because IPR laws protect computer software and the computer industry is concerned to protect its investment. There are two aspects to the RTD. The first is the search for purely technical solutions to problems of authentication and access restriction. The second is the search for solutions that are partially technical solution and partially business model construction. The reason for the second thread is that purely technical solutions often deter the consumer from buying the product at all. People forget that the movie industry banned TV from showing films until they realised that they would go out of business if they continued that policy, because the consumer felt that the advantage of watching entertainment in their own home outweighed the lower quality compared with the cinema. A commercial compromise was arrived at, that transferred some revenue from TV to the movie industry, but put lots of cinema owners out-of-business.

Technical solutions include work on watermarking techniques for authentication and transmission of rights information, encryption and its unlocking, usage tracking and logging, punishment for infringement and interdiction. All of the technical solutions are only workable if backed up by legal sanction or at least approval, and do not alienate consumers.

On the other side of the balance, digital revolution has enabled companies involved in the wholesale management of content to make major savings in internal costs through managing content in digital rather than more inflexible forms such as physical or photographic copy. Digital content can be edited, modified, stored and transmitted at the touch of a button (or key), and management information about these operations generated at source. The systems that achieve this are content management systems and are widely used by publishers, TV and film studios. They are under continuous development by the companies who create them and are being merged into other business systems such as back-office, resource planning and customer relations systems. The connection between the IPR protection and content management systems is digital rights management and is another major thread in the RTD.

The principal battlefield so far has been the music industry and the audio CD market. Copying and redistributing audio material from CDs is easier, so far, than video material. Easier, first because compressed audio files are small and can be easily transferred over the Internet and second, CD writers have been available for some time at low prices whereas DVD writers are relatively new and expensive. The situation is complicated by two factors. First in the music area, the creation costs are low, the performers / writers are (except for a few stars) poorly paid and the principal costs are promotional. At least that is the perception. If true, this opens the possibility of entirely eliminating the record companies and transferring music distribution to the hands of the artists themselves. But, the second factor is that, in the film area creation requires large numbers of people and a great deal of specialist equipment, with a complex mix of skills such as scriptwriting, casting, direction, lighting, make-up, location management, post-production. The list is endless. So, whilst music lovers can probably live without the record companies, the lovers of the feature film cant live without the studios.

The problem with all this activity is that it tends to ignore the reaction of the end user or consumer. Much of the Internet music piracy is generated by the listeners themselves and does not have an economic goal in the sense of making a profit (the music is re-distributed free), but certainly has economic consequences for the existing industry. Some of the proposed technical solutions would involve making it physically difficult, if not impossible, to carry out copying operations on all sorts of information both at home and in business. It is difficult to imagine the business world allowing their PCs to be disabled from copying and transmitting memos and e-mail, just to make life easier for Disney. Nor, given the switch from film-based cameras to digital currently underway, can one imagine consumers being prepared to continue buying digital equipment if they cant make copies of their pictures and home videos. A much harder look at the relation between the business model, the law and the technical solution is required. RTD in this area needs to be much more closely tied to practical market-driven requirements, which will make life harder for the developers, but provide solutions that satisfy both producer and consumer.

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